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Using science to drive great leadership recruiting and performance


Joanne McTiffin

Tindall Perry Partnership

· Workforce,Boards,Leader Interviews

Few would argue that a great leadership collective is an essential pre-requisite to the success of any organisation. A strong leadership team has the power to act as a multiplier for a business, with its combined efforts having a far greater impact than the sum of the individuals within it. Recruiting into this team is a vital, challenging and potentially hazardous exercise. Whilst getting it right can reap huge benefits, getting it wrong can have far reaching ramifications.

It is the job of the leadership team to shape and communicate the long-term vision and direction of the company, establish and nurture a vital company culture, foster a working environment that inspires employees to reach their full potential, and establish challenging goals that will ultimately set the business apart from its competitors.

Diversity proven to perform

Research shows that it is cognitively diverse teams that do this best – they bring together those that have a diversity of values, beliefs and attitudes that encompasses having different perspectives on the world and bringing different interpretations to the table?

But despite this, and much as we would like to deny it, many recruitment decisions are based on gut feel, on our instinct. We recruit those that we have an affinity with and can ‘get on with’, those we think will ‘fit in’ and that ‘match our culture’. Be in fact if you are interviewing someone you think will be just perfect and fit right in, they probably aren’t the person you should be recruiting into your senior leadership team. You don’t want a mini me, another clone, someone with very similar opinions and experiences to the incumbents – what you need to create a successful team is a diverse group of colleagues who share the same values but who bring different perspectives and interpretations.

And that’s because such diversity is not about tokenism, it is ultimately and most importantly about profit. McKinsey’s 2018 report ‘Delivering through Diversity’ substantiates this with evidence based real life analysis but the most important benefits of diversity are around a deeper cognitive diversity.

Research published in the Harvard Business Review (2017) shows us clearly the correlation between diverse and high performing teams - cognitively diverse teams are more successful in the way they solve problems faster and are more INNOVATIVE.

Diversity elevates the conversation and delivers better strategy

Cognitively diverse teams also spot RISK more quickly as ‘group think’ is minimised. For CEO Alan Joyce, the spectacular turnaround he led at Qantas reflected an underlying condition: “We have a very diverse environment and a very inclusive culture.” Those characteristics, according to Joyce, “got us through the tough times . . . diversity generated better strategy, better risk management, better debates, [and] better outcomes.”

Having a diverse senior team also has knock on benefits in us being able to recruit from a wider talent pool throughout the organisation. Potential candidates from all backgrounds, thinking styles and skillsets can look to the leadership team and see role models at a senior level that they can emulate and it confirms to them that this is a diverse organisation where they can thrive and have as much chance as the next person of reaching a senior level.

The challenge therefore for CEOs and their Boards is a great one around putting together a diverse team.

Acknowledge what’s driving decision making

It’s true that relying on our intuition is often highly valuable and can help us make better decisions. This intuition comes from our primitive brain, an artefact from the early days of man when the brain’s ability to detect hidden dangers ensured our survival. Our intuition has developed over time, is honed by past experiences and shaped by our knowledge and time in the workplace. Most of us believe we have great intuition and that it is effective and serves us well. But research regularly reveals that it is exceptionally poor at predicting future job performance and it drives recruitment decisions based on subjective, somewhat irrational factors which include affinity and other types of unconscious bias.

Get the basics right and drive our risk of poor recruits.

There are however a series of positive steps we can take when recruiting…

1. Use psychometric testing
All candidates bring their best face to a recruitment process. Senior, experienced candidates in particular prepare well and bring a series of well-rehearsed stories that are honed to highlight their successes and their strengths. Using one of the new breed of psychometric tests can assist in uncovering whether the strengths and traits being presented in interview are really likely to be evident in practice and whether this candidate will bring a different thinking style and new perspectives to the team.

Assessing the current incumbents within the team before starting a recruitment process is also highly valuable as this can reveal the overwhelming style and traits already within the leadership team to enable targeted recruiting not to mirror and match what is already there but to add to and enhance the team. Arctic Shores (and others) offer game-based psychometric assessment which is remarkably accurate at assessing traits around thinking style and cognition as well as hard to detect traits essential for authentic senior leaders such as self-belief alongside creativity and innovation.

2. Run a proper, formal recruitment process
Many hiring decisions are made following introductions from the network and then proceed through a series of informal meetings and ‘get to know you’ chats. These plays strongly towards our reliance and use of intuition and unconscious bias.

Running a formal process with multiple, simultaneous candidates involved where dates and interviewers are booked ahead and candidates are interviewed on the same days in a structured manner not only allows fair and equitable comparisons to be made but it means the time invested by senior leaders in the recruitment process can be maximised and decisions can be made promptly.

Recruitment processes give candidates an insightful window into the business. Candidates formulate impressions throughout the process weighing up everything from how tight and timely the process and feedback is, the behaviours witnessed in interviewing and, very importantly, how decisions are made. Great candidates – the ones you’d like to secure – accept offers from those they perceive to be great businesses. And great candidates will often be the most sought after, most likely to secure several competing offers. Long, unstructured processes rarely secure the best candidates.

3. Remember that three may be the magic number
Recent CIPD research gives the ideal number of people involved in the interview and selection process (from the hiring side) as three. Having other senior stakeholders involved in the process brings different opinions and perspectives – and by that I don’t just mean them being a part of a rubber stamping exercise or being brought in for a series of confirmatory ‘fireside chats’, but involved in the full interview process. It challenges unconscious bias and can limit poor decisions – and with 85% of managers admitting to having made a bad hiring decision that’s a key consideration.
Three was viewed as an ideal number to bring different perspectives, give candidates a more diverse and informative view of the business for them to feel able to make a positive decision, but also to enable a nimble enough process from the hiring side to make prompt and effective decisions.

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